Over the next three months our feature posts will be exploring how organizations and individuals who care about continuous improvement and risk management start with the elements that are most within personal control. They start with the individual, including goals, values, mindfulness, connection, and personal mastery.

Although “kaizen” or “continuous improvement” is associated with manufacturing, the origins of the term are inherently focused on making individuals better. “The true meaning of continuous improvement” is to develop people. As a result of making better people into better decision-makers and better problem solvers, better processes and products are created.” Jon Miller et al., Creating a Kaizen Culture 30 (2014). Thus, we agree with Miller and his co-authors that if an organization intends to adopt continuous improvement as a culture, it must begin with improvement of the individual:

“Kaizen culture is inherently moral with its people-centered focus on directing energy and effort away from areas that do not serve the higher purpose.” Id. at 29.

“The true meaning of kaizen is to engage everyone everywhere in making change toward good every day.” Id. at 30.

“Very simply put, the core beliefs underpinning kaizen are the inner motivations and direction for doing the right thing.” Id. at 58.

“Kaizen simply limited to making better products faster and cheaper is uninteresting. It is not inspiring or motivating. You can, in fact, stifling. A kaizen culture demands that we respect and elevate human potential to the highest possible level, and we find our higher selves when contemplating ever higher and more meaningful goals.” Id. at 114.

Similarly, risk management builds a process for identifying threats and opportunities before those risks overwhelm an organization or pass it by. As we have previously emphasized, a culture of risk management requires an openness to mistakes, failure, and learning. Personal development — including goals, values, mindfulness, the pursuit of mastery, and interpersonal connection — facilitates openness to learning. (For a suggestive discussion, see generally Robert M. Smith, Learning How to Learn (Applied Theory for Adults) 47-49 (1982).)

Organizations are ultimately collections of individuals. Organizational resilience and growth ultimately depend on the willingness and ability of employees to endure hardship, develop their strengths, and reduce their weaknesses. Organizations that demonstrate commitment to their employees’ personal and professional development — and especially those that commit to building their employees’ strengths — earn better performance and enhanced loyalty. See State of the American Workplace 46-49 (Gallup 2013) (available here).

Thus, we will discuss the process of setting personal goals. We will describe why individuals need to identify their personal values. We will explain how mindfulness can improve performance — indeed, how mindfulness is at the center of risk management and process improvement. We will address the importance of personal mastery. And we will describe how individuals can build out their personal and professional connections in order to enhance their personal resiliency and growth and build stronger organizations.

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